Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

How can mRNA vaccines help fight cancer?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: mRNA Vaccine

Mains level: Not Much


The results of a trial of an experimental cancer vaccine built on the mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) platform, made by Moderna and MSD (Merck&Co.), have shown promising results.

What is mRNA?


  • Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a single-stranded RNA (Ribo Nucleic Acid) molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene.
  • The mRNA is an RNA version of the gene that leaves the cell nucleus and moves to the cytoplasm where proteins are made.
  • During protein synthesis, an organelle called a ribosome moves along the mRNA, reads its base sequence, and uses the genetic code to translate each three-base triplet, or codon, into its corresponding amino acid.

What are mRNA vaccines?

  • mRNA vaccines work by introducing a piece of mRNA that corresponds to a viral protein, usually a small piece of a protein found on the virus’s outer membrane.
  • Individuals who get an mRNA vaccine are not exposed to the virus, nor can they become infected with the virus by the vaccine.
  • As part of a normal immune response, the immune system recognizes that the protein is foreign and produces specialized proteins called antibodies.
  • Antibodies help protect the body against infection by recognizing individual viruses or other pathogens, attaching to them, and marking the pathogens for destruction.
  • Once produced, antibodies remain in the body, even after the body has rid itself of the pathogen, so that the immune system can quickly respond if exposed again.

How does the vaccine work?

  • The personalized cancer vaccine uses the same messenger-RNA technology that was used to produce the COVID vaccine.
  • It allows the body’s immune system to seek and destroy cancerous cells, in this case melanoma, but with the hope that it could lead to new ways to fight other types of cancers too.

Why is it a significant feat?

  • The cancer vaccine showed a 44% reduction in the risk of dying of cancer or having the cancer progress.
  • As a personalized cancer vaccine, it is tailor-made for every patient.
  • As a consequence, it is expected to be very expensive to make.
  • But oncologists across the world have welcomed this as an exciting new opportunity in cancer care.


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